This post will be (relatively) short. It simply is to note an instance of my questions being moderated out, by an American academic.
The academic in question is Dr. Peter Woit of the Mathematics department of Columbia University (an Ivy League university) in New York, USA [^]. His latest blog post is about a new course for undergraduate students of mathematics: Quantum Mechanics for Mathematicians [^]. After going through his tentative syllabus (pdf [^]) available off the course Web page [^] I had asked the following couple of questions by way of a comment at his blog post:
(i) Would the typical student have had a prior course on quantum physics? on modern physics?
(ii) What would be the learning objectives/outcomes?
Though I did not take a printout of it, I did see that my comment make an appearance on the blog post yesterday. Its position was immediately after one Sadiq Ahmed’s comment on September 4, 2012 at 3:50 am.
However, my above-mentioned comment was found deleted (i.e. moderated out) right today.
I delete a lot of the comments submitted here. For some postings, the majority of submitted comments get deleted. I don’t delete comments because the commenter disagrees with me, actually comments agreeing with me are deleted far more often than ones that disagree with me. The overall goal is to try and maintain a comment section worth reading, so comments should ideally be well-informed and tell us something true that we didn’t already know. The most common reason for deleting a comment is that it’s off-topic. Often people are inspired by something in a posting to start discussing something else that interests them and that they feel is likely to interest others here. Unfortunately I have neither the time nor inclination to take on the thankless job of running a general discussion forum here.
Now, two questions for you, the reader:
(i) Do the questions I raised meet any of the reasons mentioned in the Columbia-paid professor’s publicly stated policy? Any reasonably similar reason?
(ii) In view of the Columbia-paid professor’s answers to others (and I don’t supply link to these answers here; after all, who knows, he might later on delete those answers, too!), it seems that it was not the first one of my two questions which was bothersome to him; he seems to have addressed it, even if indirectly, in replies to others. The bothersome question, it seems, could only be the second, the one concerned with learning objectives/outcomes.
To continue forward from what I had mentioned in my last post below, but now being stated in somewhat better terms. The non-A, taken by itself and in the absence of identification of A, is not a statement of identity. The non-A requires A for its identity; butthe A does not require the non-A. In other words, the “reverse” situation by itself is not completely at par with just the “forward” situation taken in reverse. This is an epistemological instance of the same kind of asymmetry that exists between food and the set consisting of poison + minerals + chemically inert elements, between life and the set consisting of death + coma + whatever similar.
In a way, in both morality and epistemology, two negatives do not make a positive. (Mathematics is too narrow a science, and so is CS.)
What’s the relevance of that here, you ask? Ok. I mean it this way. The Columbia University-paid professor has written a book called “Not Even Wrong.” His 15+ minutes of fame mostly traces itself back to that book; it mostly does not rest on the mathematics courses he teaches (and gets paid for) at Columbia. The book, in turn, acquired its own 15+ minutes of fame because it criticized string theorists. String theory is not a theory of physics; it’s just a bundle of some arbitrary pronouncements; its “ex post facto” nature is what the better among string theorists themselves concede, but only in private. I have not read his book. (In case you didn’t know, the expression “not even wrong” is not original.)
… Now, having said that much, I will leave the task of making connection between the above two/three paragraphs, as an exercise for the reader.
(OK. A hint: Finding enemies of enemies is a stupid way of making friends, even if Berkeley/MIT/Princeton/CalTech/Michigan/Google/etc. folks follow that policy.)
Coming back to the deletion matter itself.
Was I annoyed? Of course, I was. That’s why I decided to write this post. I have interacted with a lot of professors thus far. Needless to add, from all over the world. Including from the top 20 in whatever latest ranking scheme that is popular today. (Check out my iMechanica blog over the many years by now. That’s just an example.)
However, I can’t (at least off-hand) think of a single professor who would:
(i) consider the two questions I raised as ill-informed or off-topic in the context of a post like that,
(ii) possibly take offense at raising them, esp. the second (and remember, this is not a “seminar” or “special studies” or “extra-mural” course at the graduate level, it’s an undergraduate course), or
(iii) possibly find some ingenious (perhaps even mathematical) way to interpret the two questions, esp. the second one as somehow indicative of my being in agreement with him.
As to finding a way to interpret that I was being in agreement (and not just asking a question): Yes, many, including the mathematical and computer-science bastards, esp. those in the USA, are completely capable of being inventive in coming to agreement in this manner, not just disagreements. When you don’t care to be concerned about reality, being inventive is easy. As Lokmaanya Tilak once put it (words not exact, only heard as a legend, but completely believable given what he was like):
(Marathi) “kalpanaa, kalpanaa, kaay mhaNataa, tumhi? tyaa shaniwarwaaDyaachyaa ithe jaavun chaar aaNyaachaa gaanjaa aaNun khallaa tari waaTTel tevadhyaa kalpanaa suchataat maaNasaannaa.”
Nearest English translation:
“Ideas, ideas, what [more like why] do you talk of [more like mention] ideas? Even having gone to that “shaniwar waadaa” [where the daily bazaar of Pune used to be held in Tilak’s time] and having taken cannabis worth four annas [then exactly equal to 1/4th of a rupee; an amount today worth about, say, Rs. 100–150 or so], as many ideas as desired, occur to men.”
So, being “inventive” is easy—if reality is not your concern.
Anyway, coming back to those three possibilities, I can’t at least off-hand think of any professor who could pick up any one of those three possibilities.
(BTW, here, I was mostly thinking of the engineering department professors. Now, even as I was typing it, it occurred to me that there could possibly be those CS/maths/physics/humanities/related departments professors, who could possibly do that, be so “inventive”—apart from some very very rare engineering professors like the guy who failed me in my PhD qualifiers. But in CS/maths/physics/humanities/etc. departments, it seems a far more widespread thing or a thing very easy to do. After all, Dr. Scott Aaronson, the TIBCO Career Development Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT [^] has still not answered my question—involving a counter-example, not just an “esoteric philosophic” point—posed on his blog [^]. … Or, may be, being at an Ivy League school lends that extra (Marathi) “chaar aaNe” effect. Or, may be, being in the USA is enough for that (Marathi) “chaar aaNe” effect, though not am not too sure on this last count—I myself once worked with TIBCO, right during its pre-IPO days, when it wasn’t even 100 people strong, and they had tried to lure me a lot to go work with them for permanent, but I was even back then firm on getting a green-card first and moving onto CAE and physics immediately next. Thanks to many Americans’ machinations (including “follow-up”s, psychic attacks and whatnot), the green-card didn’t happen, but, yes, the CAE and physics did happen—in India, (to the shame of Americans).)
And to think that this guy is employed and gets paid by the Columbia university… Or, may be, precisely because he is employed and gets paid by the Columbia university….
Yeah, Americans, pay him. Give him a platform to promote a few other Americans etc. as his favorite commentators. But, don’t ever ask him to explicitly identify the learning objectives/outcomes of a course he teaches (before this post of my mine appeared, of course). Not even for a course that is ambitious enough to run for two semesters, not just one. Not even for a course sequence that occurs at the undergraduate level. But, yes, pay him. And, others like him. In an Ivy League school. In top 5 schools. In top 2 schools. Shower VC funding on them. Whatever. Yeah. Do that. Yeah. Keep on doing that.
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No “A Song I Like” section, once again. I still go jobless. Keep that in mind.
[This is initial draft, published on September 5, 2012, 11:41 AM, IST. May be I will make some minor corrections/updates later on]